When Vans Warped Tour first embarked in 1995, as a traveling alternative music festival with no obvious identity or profits to speak of, who could’ve predicted that in 2018 — more than 800 shows, 1,700 bands and 11 million attendees later — this would be the raging genre institution to have survived?
After more than two decades spent as the premiere live brand for all things punk rock, founder Kevin Lyman announced in November that this coming summer would be the final full trek for the storied fest that helped break blink-182, Fall Out Boy, Paramore and countless other pop-punk and emo leaders this century.
And consider this: Now entering its 24th season, the country’s longest-running rock roadshow has managed to out-age not only the majority of its skater-teen fanbase, but many of the budding groups booked to its expansive lineup have literally never known a world without Warped.
“We all went to Warped Tour together before we were in a band, and flash-forward a couple of years and now to be playing on its stage — it’s a wild full-circle moment for us,” says Meghan Herring, drummer for the band Doll Skin, a searing new rock four-piece from Phoenix playing the tour’s Owly.fm stage this summer. None of the quartet’s four women are older than 21.
The members — Herring, singer Sydney Dolezal, guitarist Alex Snowden and bassist Nicole Rich — formed the band as teenagers at a School of Rock program in Arizona, and have spent much of the last two years on the road, opening for punk icons Social Distortion and The Dead Kennedys, and doling an ultra-polished mix of punk, pop and metal (think Riot!-era Paramore meets Rock On The Range) that can’t help but command a room.
“It’s been cool to hear after the show, where people are like ‘I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t that, and it was awesome,’” Dolezal said. “It’s always cool to hear we’ve blown expectations out of the water.”
Doll Skin played seven dates on Warped Tour in 2017, and is fronted by stand-and-stare talent — Dolezal’s crystalline wails and lead guitarist Snowden’s fancy shreds are sure must-sees this Warped season. The group can attest to just how critical the fest’s hype machine continues to be for new outfits, especially since most of the scene’s heaviest hitters have largely disappeared from mainstream radio.
“After we played Warped Tour in Phoenix we got 10 times more of a following, because the exposure is absolutely insane,” Herring explains.
In support of its debut LP, last year’s delightfully thrash-worthy Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Doll Skin has already gone as far as the Czech Republic on tour, yet they all agree their most unforgettable moments have come from playing on Warped.
“It was the hardest work we’ve done together as a band but it was the most rewarding work we’ve ever done,” Rich says. “It was incredible seeing how people reacted, and how every time we’d get off stage there would be a line at our merch table. It was so worth all the work, and to know we are going to get an entire summer of that is just amazing.”
And it’s not lost on them that they are playing the last tour, which is headlined by a list of seasoned Warped vets: Sum 41, Taking Back Sunday, Reel Big Fish, The Used and more.
“Hopefully we can help carry the torch and help keep Warped culture alive for the next few years because it is an important, supportive community,” Rich offers. “For us, going to Warped Tour was always about discovering new music, knowing there was going to be a handful of bands you really love, but also trusting that what they put on the lineup is good stuff.”
Lyman has hinted that some version of Warped Tour will likely take place next year, for the fest’s 25th anniversary, but as this pillar of punk-rock approaches demolition, bands like Doll Skin are ready for one more chance to pack the van, play to crowds who might not have found them otherwise, and barbecue with their fellow musicians as the sun sets over San Diego, Toronto, Bonner Springs, Kansas, or wherever they may find themselves that summer day.
“I remember being in high school and being like ‘I will do anything to get on that tour to work one day’ — and now to know that my band is playing Warped Tour, it blows my mind,” Dolezal says. “I think everyone is going to miss the overall experience because it’s punk-rock summer camp. There’s nothing I’m not going to miss, other than being sweaty 24/7.”